Sunday, 26 October 2008


  • Born Bellshill 1971, grew up East Kilbride, now Edinburgh and Brussels.
  • Became more actively involved when I joined the SNP in 2004, previously secretary of Brussels Branch and then Vice Convener. Recently moved to Lanark and now a member of the Wallace Branch.
  • Actively campaigned across Scotland in urban and rural constituencies through leafleting, street stalls, canvassing on doorsteps, etc during a number of campaigns, including Westminster 2005, Local Government and Scottish Parliament 2007.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

In Glenrothes with Clydesdale CA

Having just got back from Brussels last night I was up against first thing this morning to go to Glenrothes. Clydesdale CA had organised a minibus to take a large group of us there including Aileen Campbell MSP and we were all meeting in a very windswept, cold and wet car park outside the library at Carluke at 09.00.

Despite the weather our spirits on the bus were high as we headed to Glenrothes whereupon we spent the day leafleting. The rooms were busy with buses from Glasgow also turning up. Our first run took us up to Glenrothes itself though afterwards it was great to get back to the rooms and to get some hot soup down us before the next run.

While the wind blew like a hoollie and the rain, gawd it rained, I had a great time and enjoyed the criac. Regardless of our battling against the elements we were in all this together tramping the streets and determined to get our message across to the people of Fife - to vote for Cllr Peter Grant as their new SNP MP for Glenrothes and send a clear message to Downing Street. For me it was also just nice to spend some time with Clydesdale and getting to know everyone having not long moved into the constituency.

I should also say again a big thank you to Euan Ferguson for getting us all back down the road safely that night as it certainly couldn’t have been the easiest of drives coming along the M8 with all the surface water, torrential rain and gales.

Photo: Aileen with SNP Candidate Cllr Peter Grant

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Gordon's economic policies - a failure of financial deregulation

This afternoon at conference was dominated by Nicola’s speech and once again her performance and her delivery was inspirational. After days of hearing about Gordon Brown as Europe’s conquering hero and how he had come to save both Europe and the world from the brink of complete financial collapse, I cheered with delight when Nicola said, “It’s not Scottish policies that have led to rising unemployment, the highest inflation in a generation, massive hikes in public borrowing and almost certain recession – that’s down to Gordon Brown and his economic policies”.

The real lesson of the economic crisis is not that Scotland can’t be independent. It’s that we should never let London run our economy in the first place.

And let us never forget – even though Gordon Brown desperately wants us to – that it was New Labour that helped create the climate for the banking crisis”.


After Nicola’s speech – how could anyone follow that? – it was time for the debate on the motion brought forward by the Brussels Branch on the future of Europe. The debate turned out to be a good opportunity for delegates to hear from each of the party’s seven European candidates as we all got up on the stage one by one.

I started by saying that the forthcoming European election campaign provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate once again that we are the only party ready to have a frank and honest discussion with the people of Scotland about the types of policies that we, and they, want to see coming out of the EU. None of the other parties in Scotland want – or are able – to have this debate, required as they are to follow the lead set by their London-based leaderships.

I reminded delegates that the European Parliament is one of the most powerful legislators in the world, and the task of Scotland’s MEPs is to stand up for Scotland’s interests in that Parliament, to make sure that EU legislation is fit-for-purpose in Scotland. Only this party, the SNP, can do that. That is the message we need to get across to the people of Scotland in the run-up to the European elections in June.

We cannot under-estimate the importance of EU legislation to Scotland and to ordinary Scots. The turmoil on the world’s financial markets over the past few weeks has demonstrated once again the degree of interdependence that exists between the world’s economies. The root cause of that turmoil has been the glaring inadequacies of the regulatory regime that oversees the global financial services sector. Scotland is a victim of that regulatory failure.

Once the dust has settled there will be a need to reform the regulations governing how the banks and the finance houses ply their trade. And part – probably a large part – of that regulatory response will come from the EU. The integration of the EU financial markets will make a common, EU-wide, response a necessity.

As those regulatory reforms are being discussed in Brussels, and the associated legislation debated, it is vital to this country that our voice is heard, and that our collective interests are properly represented. Only the SNP can deliver Scotland’s message, because only the SNP has Scotland’s interests – and only Scotland’s interests – as its sole concern.

It is true that the future of Europe is shaped by Treaties, and the failure of the London Labour Government to deliver on their promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is deplorable. But we also should not forget that in a real sense the future of Europe is debated and determined day and daily in the corridors of power in Brussels in the form of the legislation that the Council and the Parliament enact.

We need to have an on-going conversation with Scotland’s peoples on those matters – the future of the CAP, on climate change, on regulation of the financial services industries and all the rest of the important policies over which the EU has competence to make laws that affect Scotland’s vital interests.

In closing I made the point that it was up to all of us to take to the voters of Scotland that only a vote for the SNP in next June’s election will ensure that their interests in EU policies will be properly represented. And that the only way we can have real influence and a real voice in Brussels is with real independence.

You can watch the speech I gave below:

Aileen McLeod - SNP EU Candidate from Daibhi Anseo on Vimeo.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Meeting the stone man in Markinch

After this afternoon’s debate I headed across to Glenrothes in the minibus where we were warmly welcomed by Tricia Marwick MSP, Cllr John Beare and the rest of the campaign team and were promptly sent out to canvass in Coaltown of Balgonie. This was the first place I campaigned in with Tricia during the Holyrood campaign last year so it was good to be back. A group of us were driven there this time by the very same man who had driven from Glasgow to London and back again to return the Stone of Destiny to the people of Scotland. After a couple of hours canvassing we returned to the rooms in Markinch where I spent some time stuffing envelopes with Ian Hamilton and had the chance to chat with him about his book and about one of the most remarkable feats in Scottish history.

Photo: Aileen with some of the team at the Glenrothes campaign rooms in Markinch - Ian Hamilton

Speech at Conference on tackling climate change

While top of the agenda is how to respond to the global financial crisis, alongside it sits the key issue of how to tackle climate change. This afternoon I had the chance to remind Conference of the leading role Scotland and our Scottish Government are playing in this regard and to reemphasise the point that much more needs to be done through an internationally coordinated effort.

In moving the topical resolution on behalf of the Cromarty Firth Branch, I underlined the extent to which the EU stance on climate is and has to remain an ambitious and far reaching programme within which the Scottish Government’s ambitions for an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 fit comfortably. I also welcomed yesterday’s announcement that London has decided to follow Scotland’s lead in matching our Government’s commitment to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week there was a lot of talk about leadership in the face of global crisis, however its important to recognise that on climate change policy and renewable energy it is Scotland that is taking the leading international role in addressing the greatest challenge that we have ever faced.

The EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is the largest emissions trading scheme in the world and is a pillar of the EU’s climate policy. It covers more than 10,000 installations in the energy and industrial sectors and is collectively responsible for close to half of the EU’s emissions of carbon dioxide and 40% of its total greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change can’t successfully be tackled unless there is an internationally coordinated effort. From my perspective in Brussels the role of the EU in setting and enforcing tough climate change legislation is vital. There must be no backsliding on this on the part of EU member states.

The role of the European Parliament here is crucial since it is the EP that will wield significant influence over the final shape of EU climate change legislation. I believe it is vital for Scotland’s MEPs work to make that legislation reflect our ambitions and our commitments for effective action on climate change. It is also for Scotland’s MEPs to guard against attempts to water down this legislation from any source – corporations, countries, and governments.

Next June’s European elections offer an opportunity for Scotland to once again take a lead in tackling the causes of climate change by voting SNP. We have to make it clear to Scotland’s voters that only by voting SNP in that election can they be assured that their commitment to tackling climate change at the EU level will be heard in Brussels.

Since May 2007 our party, and our Government, has demonstrated a commitment and a leadership in tackling climate change that has no equal anywhere in the EU. Our commitment to tough emissions targets is matched by our investment in renewable energy and investment in the green technologies that will be the basis of sustainable economic growth in the future.

Scotland is the green energy powerhouse of the EU and this is recognized in the EU. Indeed the EU is looking to us to take a lead so we have nothing to fear from climate change legislation and everything to gain. Not only will our actions directly lead to better climate change legislation both in the UK and the EU but our scientists, our researchers and our industries are world leaders in the new technologies that will become an integral part of a greener future for the world.

All of this means that the SNP Government is shaping a better future for the people of Scotland and beyond. Our Government, Scotland’s Government is showing real leadership on a truly global scale. Indeed, I was also glad to hear the announcement this morning from our Cabinet Secretary for Finance, John Swinney, MSP for all international air travel and shipping to be included in the ETS as well as all six greenhouse gases and that “
Scotland will have a Climate Change Bill able to lead international action”.

As John Swinney also said, “
we face immediate economic challenges but we face a massive generational challenge of reducing our impact on the environment. We accept the responsibility to do that and we will put in place the legal framework to live up to that responsibility”.

With this in mind, delegates backed the Cromarty Firth resolution on climate change:

“Conference backs the tough action proposed by Scottish, UK and European Governments that sets an example to the rest of the world in tackling climate change.

Conference demands that the European Commission resists and all pressures placed upon it to compromise the EU Carbon Trading Scheme (ETS), a policy that is absolutely vital if we are successfully to tackle climate change. In particular the EU institutions must stand firm in the face of pressure from industries faced with meeting the compliance costs of this policy and who wish to weaken the prospective EU legislation in this crucial area.

Conference calls on our SNP Government and parliamentarians to campaign for an increased pace in the development of renewable energy delivery which is needed to make early progress towards a target of 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and introduce energy efficiency measures to climate proof Scottish homes whilst opposing the dilution of climate change plans that must be agreed in full by the European Union to maintain a world lead in tackling global warming”.

Switchover to Digital TV

I had the opportunity to stop by the Digital UK exhibition stand at party conference to find out how the switchover to Digital TV is progressing and to ensure the switchover message reaches every household in Scotland.

With the upcoming switch to digital TV here's me with Digital UK's robot mascot, Digit Al.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

SNP Conference - becoming Europe's green energy powerhouse

With the ongoing discussions in Brussels about the EU’s climate change package I decided this evening to go along to a fringe event that was organised by the Carbon Trust and was discussing how innovation will help Scotland exploit its natural resources to become Europe’s green energy powerhouse. There was much agreement that Scotland has the opportunity to lead the world in terms of the technologies it is developing and the legislation it is bringing forward for tackling climate change.

The resources we have around our shores, especially the Pentland Firth offers Scotland huge opportunities for the development of a low carbon economy which is now all the more urgent. For a low carbon economy we need to do much more with regard to energy efficiency and make much less use of our energy and we need to have clean energy supplies (renewables). Scotland also has a huge opportunity to export low carbon technologies to new markets, which will enable us to achieve our economic objectives by creating high quality jobs as well as those of sustainability and at the same time ensure sustainable economic growth.

Among the various sepakers was Graham Bibby from
AWS, Ocean Energy which is based in Alness, Rosshire and deals largely with developing marine energy technology for the wave and tidal sector. AWS was set up in 2004 and is looking to commercialise the Archimedes Wave Swing (AWS) wave power system. They plan to deploy a 250kW demonstrator in 2009 with commercial roll-out by 2011. To reach target of 1300 MW marine energy he reckoned they would need to create at least 2,000 high quality jobs with a further 2,000 in the supply chain. I hope in the near future to be able to get the chance to visit Alness and to see for myself the AWS wave power system - but this is exactly where Scotland needs to be by way of pioneering the cutting edge technology that is going to help us build a low carbon economy that will provide the high quality jobs necessary for Scotland's sustainable future.

Photo: Aileen with Rob Gibson MSP and Graham Biddy of AWS Ocean Energy

An agreement of sorts...until December

Having unpacked my case from Brussels late last night I’ve now repacked the case and headed to Perth via Edinburgh. But first of all I needed to see what had been agreed at the European Council. We had already been sent a copy of the draft conclusions so I knew roughly what was likely to be agreed regarding an EU-wide response to the banking crisis.

With the climate change package, in the end EU leaders confirmed the EU’s climate change objectives and agreed their determination to sign the climate change package at the European Council meeting in December 2008.
The conclusions state that the European Council in December will “decide on appropriate responses to the challenge of applying that package in a rigorously established cost effective manner to all sectors of the European economy and all Member States, having regard to each Member State’s specific situation”.

How far the rules will be watered down to enable concessions to be made remains to be seen but it is up to us to resist any pressure for the EU ETS to be weakened further, and it is this point that I hope to make tomorrow with the topical resolution that has been submitted by the Cromarty Firth Branch.

The Parliament is also set to vote on the climate change package in December so there will be a flurry between now and then to ensure the strong positions adopted by both the Energy Committee and the Environment Committee are maintained in the negotiations with EU ministers in the Council.

If you want to read a post-Summit analysis which deals more on the financial rescue package which the European Council managed to reach an agreement on, its worth having a look at the 4 page brief put together by the
European Policy Centre in Brussels.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

EU leaders try to agree on green energy

EU leaders are meeting in Brussels later this evening. The agenda was supposed to be all about the green energy/climate change package which the French Presidency is trying to get an agreement reached by the end of the year. But with the worsening economic crisis much of their discussion focused on agreeing a financial rescue package. At the same time, however, it has also brought to the fore the growing disunity over the climate change package with all sorts of splits and disagreements emerging as to the economic costs of meeting the EU’s climate change targets – cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, boosting renewables and energy efficiency by 20% and all by 2020 - and the impact this could have on the competitiveness of European industry.

Underlying these splits remains the key issue of how to reconcile competing economic goals with those of the environment and at the same time ensuring sustainable economic growth.

Germany, Poland, Italy and some of the other member states are concerned about the actual distribution of the emissions targets among EU countries within the ETS and want to see greater flexibility. Italy and Poland want to see the power sector buying the right to emit greenhouse gases by auction from 2020 and not 2013 as proposed by the Commission. Poland, together with Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Estonia, Hungary and Slovakia also think their targets are unfair and unrealistic to meet since 2005 is used as the baseline year for setting new emissions targets and they would rather those from 1990, which underpin the Kyoto Protocol, were used instead.

The French Presidency has already proposed a compromise under which the member states would agree next year on how to determine which energy intensive industries could receive free C02 emissions allowances within the EU ETS to protect them from competition by producers operating in other countries where there are no measures for tackling climate change (the so-called issue of carbon leakage). The Commission had originally said it would draw up a list of criteria for identifying those sectors that could benefit from 100% free EU ETS allowances depending on whether their competitiveness is at risk or not only after an international agreement had been reached in Copenhagen. Both the Commission and the Parliament do not want this list to be finalised until after the international climate change agreement is reached next December given the need to ensure a strong EU negotiating mandate.

With Poland and Italy now threatening to veto the climate change package and others trying to water down the package, the trouble is the kind of signal this sends out to the rest of the world, especially in the run-up to the UN climate change negotiations for a new international agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009 where the credibility of the EU could be at stake if it cannot reach a joint negotiating position beforehand or maintain its leadership role.

Of course if Scotland was independent not only would we be sitting at the top table able to support the need for strong and concerted action in tackling climate change (with our own target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050) but Scotland, like Denmark, would also be ideally placed to host the next UN international climate change conference – leading the way by example.

Our Annual Party Conference begins in Perth tomorrow so I’m heading back tonight from Brussels.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Rescuing Europe's banks

On the back of yesterday’s meeting of Eurozone ministers and the UK in Paris I did up a short briefing setting out what actions the EU has taken in the context of the current global financial crisis. I thought an overview of what is happening in Brussels might be helpful.

Role of the EU in the current financial crisis
The EU position remains one of encouraging and brokering inter-governmental coordination in the face of the crisis. While the European Central Bank (ECB) has a role to play in injecting liquidity into the EU financial markets, it has a limited role to play in managing the crisis. The ECB has no role in national measures designed to nationalise (or otherwise bail-out) domestic banks and other financial institutions (mortgage companies).

Nonetheless what has been striking so far has been the lack of any co-ordinated European response to a Europe-wide failure of financial deregulation.

Euro area summit, Paris
Leaders of the eurozone and the UK meeting in Paris agreed a joint European action plan to rescue Europe’s banks. The action plan simply asserts the existence of a shared concern and the need for member states to work together in the context of this financial crisis.

The action plan outlines guiding principles for government intervention through a number of national measures, which are aimed at:
- Ensuring sufficient liquidity for financial institutions (banks and lenders)
- Facilitating the financing of banks ("which is currently constrained") whereby until the end of next year national governments can offer guarantees for new inter-bank loans of up to 5 years. The form of the guarantee may vary from country to country.
- Providing the financial institutions with capital resources so that they can appropriately finance the economy
- Providing a sufficient recapitalisation of distressed banks
- Ensuring enough flexibility in the implementation of the accounting rules in the current exceptional circumstances
- Enhancing cooperation procedures between European countries.

The rescue plan, which all eurozone members are to implement according to their own national conditions and needs, will only apply until 31 December 2009

European Council, 15-16 October 2008
It is expected that EU leaders will reaffirm the co-ordinated approach to tackling the financial crisis that was agreed at the Eurozone summit in Paris.

The draft conclusions of the European Council of 15 and 16 October express the resolve of the heads of state and government "to take concerted and integrated action to protect the European financial system".

The European Council notes that national decisions must take account of their impact on other member states and be in keeping with the common principles laid down by the European Council. The heads of state insist that "measures to support banks in difficulty should go hand in hand with measures to protect tax payers, to secure accountability on the part of executives and shareholders and to protect the legitimate interests of other market players".

Due to the "exceptional circumstances," the EU rules must be enforced swiftly and flexibly. Financial establishments must implement "recommendations on the transparency of their commitments and risks" in a credible way.

EU Finance ministers meeting 7 October 2008
EU Finance Ministers agreed at their meeting in Luxembourg to "take all necessary measures to enhance the soundness and stability of our banking system and to protect the deposits of individual savers”. The Finance Ministers concluded that "public intervention has to be decided at national level in a coordinated framework”.

They agreed on seven principles of government action in bank rescues:
(1) any support given should be timely,(2)
temporary taxpayers’ interests must be protected, (3) existing shareholders should bear the consequences of government intervention, (4) governments must be free to change bank managements, if necessary, (5)governments must have the power to change banks’ remuneration policies, (6) EU state aid rules must be respected to ensure a level playing field for competitors and (7) there must be no negative spillover effects on other EU countries

EU Financial Action taken by the European Commission

Publication of Commission Communication on state aid guidelines 13 October
The Commission published guidance on how member states can best support their financial institutions in the current financial crisis while respecting EU state aid rules and avoiding excessive distortion of competition, e.g. by discriminating against financial institutions based in other Member States or allowing beneficiary banks to unfairly attract new additional business solely as a result of government support. The measures must be limited in time and foresee adequate contributions from the private sector.

The Commission relaxed its state aid rules to enable member states support their financial institutions through their various proposed bail-out schemes.

However, the Commission is clear that while seeking to approve rescue measures for banks very quickly (within 24 hours if possible) "such measures may not result in unnecessary distortions of competition between financial institutions operating in the market or negative spillover effects on other member states".

The Commission guaranteed that national rescue plans would be given the go-ahead within 24 hours if they meet the requirements outlined in its new state aid guidelines.

Appearing before the European Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee on 6 October, EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes stated that EU competition rules were "part of the solution" to the banking crisis.

The restructuring and recovery plan for banks had to respect state aid rules. These rules "are a means of ensuring a common framework, even when governments must act at national level," she said. Unilateral action was not the way forward. Ignoring state aid rules would tempt governments into a subsidy race, with healthy companies being put out of business just because their competitors received unfair state subsidies".

Governments will have to ensure that every bank active on their territory will gain access to the rescue measures, regardless of nationality. This was one of the main arguments raised by the Commission against Ireland's rescue scheme presented two weeks ago.

In its original plan, Ireland issued a blanket guarantee for all deposits in six Irish banks, but the scheme excluded other institutions operating in the country, favouring a massive reallocation of funds towards the protected banks, mainly from UK financial institutions. The Commission was particularly concerned about the discriminatory potential this could cause within the Irish market as well as its effect on other EU countries' banks.

The revised Irish plan does not include such discrimination and was formally approved by the Commission on Monday.

The Commission has already approved plans by some Member States to restore liquidity and confidence within 24 hours of their notification - e.g. the UK and Ireland on 13 October, which were found to be compatible with EC state aid rules under Article 87.3(b).

Proposal for increasing minimum protection for bank deposits
The Commission published a proposal on Wednesday 15 October to increase the minimum amount of state-guaranteed savings in any one bank from €20,000 to €50,000. This is supposed to reassure us that our savings in European banks are safe and to discourage people taking money out of their accounts to put it in banks in countries they think offer better protection. The Commission may decide to increase this to €100,000 before the end of the year. Belgium, Cyprus, Spain, Lithuania and Portugal have already increased their national guaranteed savings to €100,000. Other Member States, like Germany, Austria and Slovakia, have pledged to guarantee all savings.

Capital Requirements for banks
At the beginning of October, the Commission presented proposals for reviewing the capital requirements for banks, which included plans for more coordinated European supervision based on colleges of supervisors. Under these proposals all multinational groups will have ad hoc colleges of supervisors, put together from the authorities of the countries in which the company operates, but it remains unclear how the power will be shared.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Speaking at the College of Europe in Bruges

Just as EU energy ministers were meeting in Luxembourg to agree the internal energy market package I was up at the College of Europe in Bruges taking part in a lecture with the students there on EU energy policy. I was there to give them a perspective from Brussels on the external aspects of EU energy policy and having come through the various votes in the Parliament’s Energy and Environment Committees on the green energy package as well as earlier votes on the internal energy market package there was much to discuss with them. I was invited two years ago to speak with the students not long after the Commission had published its consultation (‘green’) paper on a new European energy strategy. So I was delighted to be invited back.

There was much interest in the Commission’s forthcoming proposals for the third and last element of the EU energy package with the long awaited publication on 13 November of its Second Strategic Energy Review. This will form the basis of the second energy action plan (2010-2012) which EU leaders are due to adopt at the meeting of the European Council in March 2010.

The EU’s Second Strategic Energy Review will focus on the whole issue of security of supply and developing the external aspects of the EU’s energy policy and will be accompanied by an action plan on external energy security to consider the challenges the EU is likely to face between 2020 and 2050, the launch of a consultation (Green Paper) on Trans-European Energy Networks, a Communication on Offshore Wind, where the Commission supports the setting up a working group to prepare a project for a North Sea offshore network, as well as legislation on energy efficiency, transparency and use of emergency oil stocks and gas security of supply through the setting up of a solidarity mechanism.

To speed up the implementation of the strategic energy technologies plan (SET-plan), the Commission will also be publishing shortly a Communication on funding low carbon intensity technologies.

There is much here that is likely to be of great interest to Scotland not least EU plans to give greater support to offshore wind. With the EU looking for alternatives and at ways in which Europe can connect up its energy supplies through an internal energy market and better cross-border links and storage facilities inside the EU, creating a European offshore supergrid linking up the west coast of Scotland, the north and east coasts of Northern Ireland, the Irish Sea and the west coast of the Republic of Ireland offers massive potential for exporting clean, green energy to the rest of mainland Europe.

President Barroso in a speech in Brussels yesterday made it clear that he wanted to see a real collective approach to upgrade key infrastructure that is essential to maintaining uninterrupted supplies and which would enable a more diversified energy supply to be brought into the EU.

This comes in the wake of a report published by the International Energy Agency last month on the EU energy policy which underlined the need for the EU to better coordinate its external relations with the world’s key suppliers and producers so it can use its full weight on the international stage.

Ultimate authority over national energy policies and national energy resources has to remain in the hands of the appropriate domestic authorities. Certainly, I want to see an Independent Scotland able to control its own energy future but where cooperation and coordination with our European partners makes sense and could be beneficial then we should examine it.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Back to Strasbourg....

Just to finish this week off we heard from the Parliament's authorities that the building work to repair the collapsed ceiling in Strasbourg was finished and had been given the okay clearance, so it looks like the EP will be back in Strasbourg come our next session on 20 October. I say this every time but this is just such a complete waste of taxpayers' money. I'm lucky that I don't have to endure the monthly trek as I simply stay put in my office in Brussels but it is just the fact that I have Alyn down there, along with our group advisor, committee secretariat staff, the Commissioners and their staff when it just would be so much easier to have everyone in one place in Brussels.

Having the last two sessions in Brussels has underlined how much more effective and productive the EP is and how much more we are relaxed because folk aren't having to endure being away from home and being away from what they are familiar with in Brussels.

The UN and the issue of Kosova's independence

Just as Kosova is getting on with the business of building its nation following its declaration of independence in February, the UN General Assembly backed the request from the Serbian government for an advisory opinion from the international Court of Justice on the question of Kosova’s independence.

The text of the UN resolution is below:

United Nations Sixty-third session

Agenda item 71

Request for an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on whether the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo is in accordance with international law
Draft resolution submitted by Serbia

Request for an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on whether the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo is in accordance with international law

The General Assembly,
Mindful of the purposes and principles of the United Nations,
Bearing in mind its functions and powers under the Charter of the United Nations,
Recalling that on 17 February 2008 the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo declared independence from Serbia,
Aware that this act has been received with varied reactions by the Members of the United Nations as to its compatibility with the existing international legal order,
Decides, in accordance with Article 96 of the Charter of the United Nations to request the International Court of Justice, pursuant to Article 65 of the Statute of the Court to render an advisory opinion on the following question:
“Is the unilateral declaration of independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo in accordance with international law?”.

77 countries supported the UN decision with 6 against, 74 abstentions and 35 which didn’t participate. The UK’s Ambassador to the UN, John Sawers submitted a letter in defence of Kosova’s declaration of independence stating that this was done in accordance with international law and that the an advisory opinion is not essential - a view which I also share. The UK wants the ICJ to also take into account the broader context of Kosova’s declaration of independence and has stressed that Kosova must be allowed to take part in the proceedings and argue its case. The only advantage in this opinion is the extent to which it should give greater legal certainty.

I was fortunate to have spent 3 days in Pristina earlier in February just before Kosova declared its independence and met with representatives from both the EU and UN missions, as well as some of the NGOs and representatives from across the political and ethnic spectrum. Everyone we spoke with underlined to us that Kosova could not go back to where it was before 1999 and had to keep going forwards and the only way to do that was through independence no matter how hard that road would be – there was no other option.

Since then I have kept a close eye on developments in Pristina and seen how Kosova has been able to move forward and slowly begin to take its place in the world – despite the continual resistance and opposition from Serbia and Russia both of which have refused to recognise Kosova’s declaration of independence.

In July an international donors conference was held in Brussels where the international community pledged 1.2 billion euros to rebuild Kosova such is the extent of support for Kosova and the understanding that much more needs to be done in order to secure stability in the Western Balkans.

Kosova’s independence is now recognised by 51 countries including most recently Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia, and is recognised by a majority of EU countries – 22 out of 27 with the exception of Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, and Slovakia. As part of the wider recognition process, Kosova is already opening up a number of embassies across the world not least in Brussels where there will be a representative of the new Kosovan government in the Belgian Embassy. I’m looking forward to meeting with him in due course and to re-establish our initial contact with him from our time in Pristina back in February

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Tackling climate change through carbon capture

The last bit of the green energy package to be voted through the Environment Committee was a report drafted by the UK Lib Dem MEP, Chris Davies on the Commission’s plans for developing carbon capture technology and ensuring there is a legal framework for its proper and safe deployment.

The report adopted wants to see all new coal-fired power stations built from 2015 onwards to be equipped with the new carbon capture and storage technology (CCS). MEPs on the Environment Committee backed an amendment that introduces an “emission performance standard” which would require member states to set limits on the C02 performance of new power stations with a capacity of more than 300 Mega Watts. After 2015, the emissions of large power plants cannot exceed 500 Kg of CO2 per kilowatt hour (Kwh) on an annual average basis.

Any new coal plants must be built with environmental protection – that is fundamental.
New coal plants with carbon capture and storage facilities have the potential to make important emissions savings while providing a secure supply of energy. This is likely to be of significant benefit for Scotland, especially since Scotland is widely recognised as being among the countries best placed in the world to fully exploit the clean carbon potential of carbon capture schemes. The Longannet coal fired power station is already investing in cleaner carbon based technologies. Scottish power stations burning clean, 'green' coal would bring huge economic benefits to Scotland with the creation of more jobs in Scotland’s energy industry at the same time as greatly reducing emissions. Scotland has huge coal reserves which together with our renewables would help to meet Scotland’s electricity needs without the need for nuclear for many years to come.

The Commission plans to help Europe build up to 12 large scale demonstration carbon capture projects by 2015 and we certainly welcome EU support in this regard, not least after what happened with the carbon capture and storage project at the Peterhead power station where Scotland already had a world-leading proposal for a demonstrator site.

Because of political uncertainty caused entirely by the London Government not making it a priority and not giving it the backing it needed, the project did go ahead but instead of on our own doorstep in Scotland it went to California. This project was one of the most advanced of any in the EU and offered a real opportunity for not just Scotland and the UK but also the EU to lead the world in advancing and using this technology by 2010. While the European Commission supported it, once again London’s failure ensured Scotland lost out.

Of course a key issue was that of how to finance these demonstration projects with opinion divided over whether this should be for member states or private sector. In his draft opinion to the Environment Committee, the rapporteur Christian Ehler (German Christian Democrat MEP) for the Energy Committee wants to see CCS funded from the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for research and development as well as by allowances from the EU’s ETS. But to kick-start CCS during the initial planning and construction phases, funding needs to come before 2013 and this could be done by using 500 million euro from the Risk Sharing Finance Facility that was held back until the mid-term review of FP7. With co-financing by the European Investment Bank this could provide 1 billion euros. So again we have to wait and see what will come out of the ongoing negotiations between the parliament, the member states and the Commission before December.

Tackling climate change by sharing the burden of effort

Report number 2 voted on by the Parliament's Environment Committee concerned the whole issue of effort sharing by the Member States. The report drafted by the Finnish Green MEP Satu Hassi was in the end adopted by 65 votes in favour with one abstention.

It considerably strengthened the Commission's original proposal by calling for Member States to face strict fines and sanctions if they fail to meet national reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions from sources that are not covered by the EU ETS, e.g. road and sea transport, buildings, services and farming and smaller industrial installations.

Any Member State that fails to meet its target must pay an "excess emissions penalty" equivalent to the fines paid under the ETS - i.e. €100 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted. Should a Member State fail to pay this penalty, then the excess emissions will be deducted from the ETS allowances to be auctioned by that Member State. The Commission would auction these allowances instead.

Auctioning revenues and fines will then be invested in a Community fund dedicated to research, development and use of renewable energy and increased energy efficiency and conservation in the EU.

The report by Satu Hassi backs the binding national targets proposed by the Commission for each Member State to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from non-ETS sources. It is proposed that the UK reduces its emissions by 16%.

It also sets new EU long term (post-2020) greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets of at least 50% by 2035 and of 60% to 80% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.

A Member State whose greenhouse gas emissions are below its limit should be able to transfer, sell or lend part of its entitlement to another Member State, to help it meet its target. The transfer revenues should then be invested in energy efficiency, renewable energy or climate-friendly modes of transport.

Until an international agreement is reached Member States will be allowed to "offset" emissions i.e. invest in greenhouse gas reduction projects in developing countries under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism as a means to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. Member States may use such external project credits to account only for up to 8% of their 2005 emissions over 2013-2020. The Commission had originally proposed to allow Member States to "offset" their emissions by up to 3% per year.

Despite much oppostition from other political groups, our group (the Greens/EFA in which the SNP sits) managed to see off atempts to undermine the automatic increase of the EU's target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 from 20% to 30% in the event that an international climate change deal is reached in Copenhagen. Our group also backed long term emissions reductions targets – 50% by 2035 and 60-80% by 2050. This is absolutely crucial if the EU is play a leading role in the negotiations for a new international climate change agreement in Copenhagen next December.

Upon the conclusion of an international agreement, Member States should finance greenhouse gas emission reductions, such as projects to prevent or remedy deforestation in developing and transition countries that have ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The EU should provide grant-based financial assistance for developing countries to help them adapt to climate change. This assistance should increase from €5 billion in 2013 to at least €10 billion in 2020.

Tackling climate change through the EU ETS

The rest of the climate change package was voted through the Parliament's Environment Committee yesterday in what was referred to in the press as "Super Tuesday".

The Environment Committee backed the rest of the Commission's climate change proposals in a series of votes on three separate reports:
(1) reviewing and updating the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS),
(2) effort sharing among the member states to meet the EU’s greenhouse gas reduction commitment in sectors not covered by the EU ETS (such as transport, buildings, services, smaller industrial installations, agriculture and waste) and agriculture and waste) with specific, binding national targets
(3) stimulating the uptake of CO2 carbon capture and storage.

EU Emissions Trading Scheme
The EU ETS was launched in January 2005 as a "cap and trade" system: it caps the overall level of emissions allowed but, within that limit, allows participants to buy and sell allowances as they require in order to cut emissions cost-effectively. It currently covers over 10,000 installations in the energy and industrial sectors

The report, drafted by the Irish Fianna Gael MEP Avril Doyle, was adopted by 44 votes in favour, 20 against and one abstention.

The Committee endorsed the Commission's plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 and by 30% if a new international agreement is reached at the UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. The SNP fully supports the EU’s sustainable energy targets though if anything we believe the EU should be more ambitious given the Scottish Government’s target for cutting greenhouse gas reductions by 80% by 2050.

Key amendments adopted include:
The power sector should be obliged to obtain 100% of CO2 permits at auction after 2013.

Energy-intensive industries should be required to obtain 15% of emissions permits at auction in 2013, with a gradual phase-in towards 100% auctioning by 2020 (a 5% decrease compared to the Commission's initial proposal for a 20% auctioning requirement). Sectors eligible for 100% free emissions allowances should be identified only after the conclusion of international climate talks in Copenhagen in December 2009.

500 million spare emissions allowances, normally reserved for new entrants into the EU ETS scheme, should be made available as an incentive/financing measure for large-scale commercial carbon capture and storage (
CCS) demonstration plants.

The Commission should ensure that contracts for the construction of 12 large-scale demonstration plants are let before the UN meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009.

The threshold for installations affected by the EU ETS should be raised from 10,000 to 25,000 tonnes of annual CO2 emissions.

100% of Member States' auction revenues should be set aside or 'ring fenced' for climate-related purposes, whereby half of the money should be earmarked for developing countries. The remaining auction revenues would be used to fund clean energy technologies and other climate change-related investments inside the EU, thereby helping Member States to adapt to climate change or to fund research and development.

Installations should be able to achieve at least 40% of their targets through the financing of emissions reductions projects in developing countries under the Kyoto Protocol's Joint Implementation and Clean Development Mechanisms (JI/CDM), but stricter rules on the validity of CDM projects would need to be respected.

Support for the extension of the scope of the current ETS (which covers for example power stations, oil refineries and factories making cement, glass, lime, bricks, ceramics, and pulp) to include new industries (e.g. aluminium and ammonia producers and petrochemicals) and two further gases (nitrous oxide and perfluorocarbons).

Up to 5% of emissions reductions could be obtained through the preservation of forests in developing countries under the condition that an international climate deal is in place.

This report ran into all sorts of difficulties with the EPP group (European People’s Party – comprises the Christian Democrats and the Tories) split over the issue of companies having to buy permits to pollute from 2013. There was a lot of pressure from the industry lobby concerning the Commission’s proposals which were being endorsed in the draft Doyle report with concerns raised by the German and Polish delegations of the need to support giving companies “free allowances” in the ETS – the argument being that this was necessary to protect them from competition by producers operating in countries where pollution is cheaper. I was glad to see in the end that the Environment Committee rejected attempts to water down the ETS. If we are to be serious about tackling climate change then Europe needs to lead by example in ensuring there is as strong a scheme as possible.

There were also questions over what should happen with auction revenues. The Commission’s position, which was supported by the rapporteur, Avril Doyle, is that these revenues should be invested back into the national coffers of the member states. While our group supported proposals to keep 50% of revenues from auctioning in a dedicated fund to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including helping the least developed countries mitigate and adapt to climate change, we also backed the earmarking of the other revenues for investing in climate change measures such as promoting renewable energy technologies.

With the French Presidency determined to get an agreement on the whole climate change package under its watch, it means intensive negotiations on the Parliament's side to ensure as much of the Parliament's position as possible remains intact and that will all depend on what happens during the debate and vote in Strasbourg later in December.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

A disappointing result for CAP reform vote

So, after three and a half hours of voting through over 700 amendments and compromises MEPs on the Agriculture Committee this afternoon finally adopted their position on the Commission's proposed CAP health check. This was the report drafted by the Portuguese Socialist MEP Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos.

We lost many of our amendments and to be honest I was disappointed with the result not least because of all the efforts that had gone in from our side and the fact that this package of reforms was supposed to be about tidying up the 2003 reforms and making things much simpler for our farmers when the Committee seemed to go in the opposite direction in voting something through that actually complicates things more.

A number of our ideas were taken up and these include the decoupling of farm payments in the sheep, goat and beef sectors as a way in which to try and eliminate distortions of competition and to simplify the single payment scheme for farmers by including them in this scheme . We also sought to ensure that as compulsory modulation across the EU increases, voluntary modulation must be reduced so as to ensure a level playing field for Scotland’s farmers and that they are not at a competitive disadvantage compared to our European counterparts. And at the same time the level of rural development funding must not be lowered as a result.

Our amendments to make set aside a normal entitlement, thereby allowing farmers to produce for the market, got through as did our attempt to reduce the administrative and financial burden of cross compliance.

In the end all we could do was to give the Santos report a yellow card. We’ll have another chance at the report when it comes before the plenary in November so a lot can happen between now and then.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Scotland's sheep farmers before the European Parliament

Today we brought a high level delegation across to Brussels from Scotland's NFU, the National Sheep Association and the Scottish Farmer to present their case against the Commission's plans to introduce compulsory electronic identification for sheep to the Parliament's Agriculture Committee. To be honest, it was an immensely proud moment to see and listen to our farmers outlining their concerns to the Committee this afternoon and they did a grand job of it.

I'd spent most of the week before working with the British Agricultural Bureau office in Brussels in trying to bring together the various farming delegations from Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and England who also wanted to be part of the presentation to the Agriculture Committee and show as united a common front as possible to MEPs on the Committee.

The NFU and the National Sheep Association reiterated that electronically tagging all of Scotland's seven million sheep, including the ones in hilly, mountainous areas would be completely impractical and the technology is still unproven. We understand the aims of what the Commission is trying to do regarding compulsory EID but continue to believe that they will not achieve what they are supposed to and will add more costs at a time when our sheep farmers are already hitting hard times with the credit crunch and are just not practical.

I was glad to see that there was much support among Committee members for what our delegation was telling them and certainly Neil Parish, the Committee Chair made it absolutely clear that he would be pushing very hard for the scheme to be introduced on an opt-in, voluntary basis. Also at the Committee meeting were representatives from the Commission who continued to argue that from 1 January 2011 it will be compulsory for Europe's sheep to require electronic identification and they will have their movements individually recorded.

At the moment our cross-party, cross-nationality written declaration on compulsory EID is still live and we are trying to get as many MEPs as possible to sign it. The Scottish National Sheep Association presented us with the rest of its compulsory EID petition, which was presented to the European Parliament's Petitions Committee back in July and which now totals over 8,000. It is vital that we continue to keep the pressure on the Commission and we are certainly doing everything we can to safeguard Scotland's sheep farming interests by supporting EID to be done on a voluntary/opt-in basis.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Scotland and Europe's energy future

With me being back in Edinburgh this week I was invited by the University of Edinburgh's Europa Institute to take part in a seminar last night on Scotland and EU energy policy that was also organised in association with the Scottish Government. The seminar in itself is timely given the current inquiry of the Scottish Parliament's Energy Committee which is looking at delivering and determining Scotland's energy future. Since there is much overlap with the energy debate in Brussels about Europe's energy future and where Scotland's energy future fits within that debate I'm working closely with our SNP colleagues on the Committee to ensure they are fully up to speed with what is going on out here.

Such a seminar was an initial attempt to bring together a number of key stakeholders in Scotland's energy sector with policy makers in the Scottish Government and academics who have an interest in this area to discuss the challenges they consider are posed to Scotland as the EU's action in the area of energy policy develops. Essentially this was a good opportunity for me to hear from stakeholders how they think EU energy policy should best be developed to advance Scotland's interests.

The implications for Scotland are clear. Europe is looking for alternatives and Scotland has the glittering prize with its vast renewable energy potential. Scotland remains one of the EU’s leading nations in developing green energy technologies and is Europe’s green energy powerhouse. As an important provider and supplier of energy, there is much Scotland can and should contribute to EU-level discussions to ensure a sustainable energy future that is good for Scotland and good for the EU in the long term. Any future EU energy policy must be suitable to Scotland's distinctive energy interests and our unique energy resources. Given the global interdependency of Scotland’s energy market, the development of a European energy policy is of key strategic importance to Scotland. We have to ensure that any proposed European legislation in this area is appropriate for Scotland’s commercial, scientific and energy interests

Much of my discussion focused on where the EU energy package is in Brussels, what the legislative process within the Parliament involves and what the opportunities are for engaging with the EP and its Energy and Environment Committees.

By way of example I showed what was possible to achieve when we have a clear Scottish interest at stake - the issue being the implications the Commission's plans for splitting energy producers from their distribution network ("ownership unbundling") will have for Scotland's energy market model - and how this was pushed in both the Council and the EP to protect Scotland's key interests in this regard even in an area like energy regulation which is a reserved matter for London.

I tried to emphasise the point that regardless of what the outcome is in the Parliament, if you don’t put your case, no one will know. We need to know from back home how draft European legislation could potentially affect Scottish interests as then makes it much easier for us to know exactly what the problem is and to then do something about it. Even if we don’t always win the argument in the EP, that’s not to say we can’t win it elsewhere and we have to use all avenues of influence to build the necessary support behind our position. But the real crux is that Scotland needs to have a view and then convey that view to Brussels and London.

As Europe's green energy powerhouse it is absolutely vital that Scotland's distinctive energy challenges and opportunities are recognised within the energy discussions across here.